His name is synonymous with Digimon - every Digi-Fan knows it, and knows it well. But there are a lot of misconceptions about Jeff Nimoy, and he has recently reached out to get in touch with the fans to clear them up. He was kind enough to answer some of my questions.
McFeely: You are known as both a writer and a voice actor - but
which was your first love? Which do you prefer doing now?
Jeff Nimoy: Actually I prefer to direct and produce. I directed almost every episode of Digimon for the first two seasons, after taking over for Wendee Lee, and Michael Sorich, who both did excellent jobs. I enjoy directing, because it's a very collaborative effort. You deal with every aspect of the show, and you can really shape it in a creative way, whereas with writing you usually do it alone or with a partner, and in acting, you only deal with the director. But I prefer acting to writing.
CMcF: When did you decide you wanted to build careers for yourself in these areas?
JN: I needed a job! I started out strictly as an actor, but eventually a producer asked me to write something I was performing in. He then asked me to produce something, and eventually direct something. It just sort of snowballed from there, and I'm glad, because as I mentioned earlier, I enjoy being a producer and director much more than I ever enjoyed acting by itself.
CMcF: Through what events were you approached for the Digimon series (in both acting and writing capacity)?
JN: Originally I was asked to just do a voice on the show. I had done a lot of voice work for Saban, so they knew me. I think I was considered to play the part of Matt, but Joshua Seth had too many roles, so they gave me Tentomon instead (which Josh originated). I also played a lot of smaller roles in the beginning, like Izzy's Dad. Anyway, the producer of the show then was a good friend of mine, Rita Acosta Majkut. She needed writers, and she produced a show I was the writer and executive producer on in the past for Fox Kids, so she asked me to write a Digimon script (#14). I had actually already talked to the then network executive on the show Terri O'Malley (who was also on my production team for that same show Bob and I did, called "Chimp Lips Theater") about writing on Digimon, but I turned it down. Then one day, Wendee Lee went on her honeymoon, and Michael Sorich had another commitment, so Rita asked me if I would direct for a week. During that week, Rita got promoted to Development, and Terri took over as producer. Because Terri and I had worked together before, and she knew me as an executive producer, producer, director, actor, and writer, she felt more comfortable with me running the show, because I had the experience Wendee and Michael didn't. It was nothing against them, they did a terrific job. It was just that Terri wanted someone who could do more, and she knew I could handle the work load, along with my business partner, Bob Buchholz. The writing started around episode 14, and the directing started somewhere around episode 30.
CMcF: As one of the major writers in both series (particularly the second), it's safe to assume you are familiar with many, if not all, of the characters, therefore I can be a bit more detailed with my questions than I have been with others I have spoken to - first of all, is there any one episode that you are personally fond of, above all others?
JN: Both mine, and Bob's favorite episode is the one from season #2 with the Roachmon brothers, which we voiced as well. Also, because Mimi made a return in it, and we liked the first season characters better.
CMcF: What of the characters? Is there a character that you consider your favorite (not limited to those you have played)? Are there any characters at the other end of the spectrum, who you disliked writing?
JN: I liked Joe the best (I think Bob did too). He was just so fun to write for because his personality was so defined. I didn't dislike writing any character (and I know a lot of your readers expected me to say Davis, but I loved Davis, and I loved Veemon even more), but I didn't like it when a character only grunted or growled for two years and all of a sudden he had to speak a monologue. We'd have no idea what his character was, and we'd have to invent something. My favorite villains to write for were Puppetmon, and Etemon. I liked directing those characters as well (played brilliantly by the often used David Lodge and Richard Epcar).
CMcF: As a voice actor, who would you consider your favorite character to voice?
JN: I hated Cherrymon! We went through three actors and the network didn't like any, so I wound up playing him, with a sort of Marlon Brando lisp. It was too hard to talk, and he had tons of dialogue! Some of my favorites were Ken's teacher, but it never got on the air. They replaced me with Robert M. Klein. They thought I was too funny (whatever). Also, I loved Floyd the barber, in the movie (a tribute to the Andy Griffith show). But of course, my favorite will always be Tentomon, the one that started it all for me (which Robert Klein also replaced after I left the show around episode 99).
CMcF: Here's one that I'm curious about - what is the story behind your partnership with Bob Buchholz? When your name appears - as a writer, a voice director, a story editor - it is always alongside Mr. Buchholz's. How did this partnership come about?
JN: Bob and I were in a comedy group together called the LA Connection. He was a writer on the cult show "Mad Movies," which was a show that took old movies, and replaced the dialogue with a new comedy soundtrack. They also dubbed old movie clips on the Alan Thicke show, "Thick of the Night." Anyway, when I joined the group, Bob was head writer (even though someone else took credit for it). Bob and I really clicked as a writing team, so when I got my first producing job, I asked Bob to join me as a full partner in my new production company.
CMcF: How did it come about that you and Mr. Buchholz evolved from writers and voice actors to the story editors and voice directors?
JN: As I said, Terri asked us to play a bigger part in the show when she became producer.
CMcF: I'll fully understand if you do not wish to answer this question - but what was the reason behind your departure from "Digimon" towards the second season finale? Can we assume from this that you will not be appearing in any capacity in the third series?
JN: That's a good assumption. I just didn't agree with all the policies and decisions on the show at that point, so it was best that we parted company when we did.
CMcF: Do you believe that you have been cast in other roles (I believe you've worked on "Gundam 08th MS Team" of late?) as a result of notoriety obtained from working on other popular shows like "Digimon" (or vice versa), or was each assignment independently secured?
JN: Each show was separate. I have gotten writing, producing, and directing jobs as a result of my reputation on Digimon, but all the roles I played were residuals of my acting career (the people that were casting just knew me). I turned down a lot of dubbing work as an actor, because producing et al takes up so much time. But I show up every now and then, like Wolfwood in Trigun (which I almost had to pull out of because the Digimon movie schedule was so grueling).
CMcF: It's my understanding that a lot of voice actors seldom watch the shows they work on - does this hold true for you? I'd imagine that you don't really have to watch the shows, having written them, and having directed the voice actors.
JN: Sometimes I watched Digimon to see what the final mix sounded like, but I stopped because it was too frustrating. I was always thinking, "I wish I could re-record that line," or "I wish the music was different there," so I stopped. But I remember almost every line ever recorded.
CMcF: It's a fair thing to say that voice actors receive little appreciation for what they do, beyond cult and fan followings. What are your views on this? Do you like the anonymity?
JN: Dubbing is so much harder than acting in original animation. I can't believe that these actors are so grossly underpaid for what they do. In original animation, a famous actor speaks into a microphone, and says the line as fast or as slow as they like, with all the freedom that their acting skills allow.
In a dubbed series, an underpaid, unknown actor, has to say exactly what is written, as fast or as slow as the character on screen is speaking, PLUS, they have to match the emotional power under extremely constrained circumstances. They should be the voice-over stars of Hollywood, not the folks on the Simpsons. Not many actors can do it well enough (and fast enough, which is always a budgetary concern) and that's why you see the same actors working the dubbed series over and over again.
CMcF: Writers of cartoons also tend to receive considerably less appreciation than other writers - what do you think of this?
JN: It's a living. It doesn't bother me. I think it is harder to write a movie than it is a cartoon, so it should get more consideration.
CMcF: Are you friendly with any of the other cast members of the shows you work on?
JN: I am friends with almost all of them.
CMcF: What would you say to those who aspire to be voice actors? Or those who seek to break into the writing industry? There are a lot of Digimon fans out there like that, judging from the huge amount of Digimon fan fiction that exists.
JN: It's a tough business, and in order to succeed, you have to know someone in the business (this goes for all aspects of showbiz). So if you don't know anyone who can get your foot in the door, MEET THEM!
CMcF: What do you do in your spare time? What hobbies or interests do you have?
JN: I'm a huge baseball fan, and I love film as well.
CMcF: Who would you cite as your inspirations?
JN: I'm like a sponge. I'm a historian of the entertainment industry and I've learned something from everyone.
CMcF: ARE you actually related to Leonard Nimoy?
JN: Yes, we're third cousins.
CMcF: What can we expect to see/hear from you next?
JN: Bob Buchholz and I just finished work on another dubbed series called, "Mummy Nanny," a comedy animated kid's series, however, I don't know when or where it is scheduled to air on American television.
CMcF: Well, I'm out of questions. Thank you very much for all your time and patience, and for answering in such detail!
Since giving this interview, Jeff has shut down the e-mail address he was using to communicate with the fans. To the fans, he says:
Dear Digimon Fans,
Thanks for all your wonderful questions. I'm glad I was able to give you a behind the scenes look into the making of the first two seasons of Digimon. Unfortunately, I don't have any more time to answer your questions, so I have to shut down the address I created for you. I apologize to those of you who didn't get your questions in by now, but I hope you understand.
It was great hearing from you all. Remember, NO MORE RUMORS! Good luck to you all.
All my best,
He has also been a *huge* help to me in modifying my Voice Actor List - it's now got just about every major character on it.